Market-warehouse hybrid could be future of grocery shopping

Image 1 of 5

A couple months ago we showed you lines of people purchasing poultry in a parking lot -- 40-pound cases for 1.69 a pound.

Right after that story aired, I got an e-mail: "We do the exact same thing. And our chicken's even cheaper."

Wes Pinkerton wrote me from an unexpected place: a farmer's market.  But It was a farmer's market like I've never seen before.

Wes whisked us around this busy, 45,000-square-foot emporium and showed off some seriously competitive prices.

"There are plenty of times during the year where you'll find this at $.99 a pound here, while your local grocery store will be $2.99 a pound," he said, showing off some tomatoes.

Wes says Sanwa Farmer's Market offers fresher food at lower prices because it shortens the supply chain.

"We don't have to go through a distribution center," he explained. 

But with towering shelves stocked with items like 4-pound jugs of onion powder, it does not look like a typical farmer's market.

"But what's your definition of a farmer's market?" Wes countered.

Wes says Sanwa is half and half -- half market, half warehouse.

"We're a hybrid here. We compete with nobody and we compete with everybody."

In produce, we spotted Crissy Jones stocking up on her first trip.  She was giddy, though just as perplexed as I was.

"I think it's great," she said.  "And I never knew about it or, I don't know."

Originally, only bulk-buying restaurants could shop Sanwa, but not anymore.

It still doesn't advertise.  Yet, its popularity is quietly growing.  Case in point: Mervat Sanders.

"I come here at least once a week," she said, explaining that she tells everyone how Sanwa has sliced her food budget.

"I usually buy seafood," she continued.  "Sometimes I feel like I save more than 50 percent."

Wes concedes it may not be everyone's bag.

"if somebody that is used to shopping at Whole Foods comes in here, they may not like it. OK? It's not for everybody."

Yet, Sanwa is convinced its hybrid approach to getting groceries is a taste of tomorrow's supermarket, today.

"We think that this is a model that we can template," he added,  "and start looking toward doing it in other cities."

Sanwa Market is on East Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa, in between Interstate 275 and U.S. 41.